On Facades and Glaziers

Maastricht's glass stories

6 March 2024

We often look through glass but seldom at it. While ubiquitous today, in the past, glass was rarely a building material. Historically, church windows conveyed our identity and moral codes. Today, the symbolic depth of glass reflects our health, privacy, and nature. A glass building can be present and indiscernible – its architecture materialises and disappears. This walk guides you through Maastricht’s remarkable glass façades and vibrant stained-glass artworks, revealing the countless, captivating glass narratives woven into our city’s fabric.

This walk was conceived as part of the In Vitro: The Many Lives of Glass exhibition at Bureau Europa.

Distance: 5 km | Duration: 2.5 hours

1. Starting at Bureau Europa, platform for architecture and design, this walk explores glass and glass art in all its facets. Along the way, we’ll encounter some of the places and artists showcased in the exhibition In Vitro. But there’s more: Maastricht brims with glass and its stories, some demanding a discerning eye for detail.

2. Upon leaving Bureau Europa, we face the massive Eiffel Building, whose name is no coincidence. Just as the Eiffel Tower dominates the Parisian skyline, ‘the Sphinx’, as it is colloquially known, towers over Maastricht. The glass used in the Eiffel Building could fill over an entire football field, which is not solely due to the structure’s size but also because modern construction methods enabled the use of such large windows. Despite not being externally visible, the building has three sections, constructed between 1928 and 1941: the first two with a concrete structure and the third with steel. The Eiffel Building is the most prominent legacy of Petrus Regout’s glass and ceramics factories, a renowned figure in Maastricht’s history. The In Vitro exhibition features Regout’s glass designs, including roof tiles and gas pipes. Once glass production ceased here in 1925, the Eiffel Building, with its football field of glass, arose on the site of the former kilns.

3. As you walk down Boschstraat, you’ll come across the striking yellow marl stone Sint-Matthijskerk (St. Matthias Church) on your left, adorned with stained-glass windows crafted by Charles Eyck, one of Limburg’s renowned artists and a skilled glassmaker. Since the church is only open during High Mass, let’s continue along the alleyway to the right and turn left onto Batterijstraat. Here stands the V’ House, designed by Wiel Arets. There are no stained-glass windows here; in fact, there are no conventional windows at all. The entire façade consists of glass panels suspended from a concrete and steel framework. What’s particularly captivating about this structure is it subverts the idea that glass equals transparency. Instead, the curtain wall shields the interior from the public street, while the green-blue hue reflecting off the glass imparts an aura of sanctity to the building. But the V’ House goes beyond mere concealment. It not only obscures what lies within but also defies interpretation itself. Floors and doors are barely discernible, and traditional windows are entirely absent. While glass is often considered the nemesis of secrecy, it becomes its guardian here.

4. Stroll down the street and turn left toward the Markt. In the square, Maastricht’s Stadhuis (City Hall) stands prominently, a creation of Pieter Post from the mid-17th century. Embellishing the Stadhuis are numerous small stained-glass windows. Walking around it and gazing upward, you can spot them, though they are best seen from inside, where the daylight truly illuminates their beauty. These windows portray iconic Maastricht locales, buildings (some now lost to time), and notable figures. Additionally, it is customary for departing mayors and elected city council members to have a stained-glass window made in their honour. As one might expect, this tradition has amassed quite a collection, with hundreds of these windows throughout the Stadhuis.

5. From the Markt, walk down Spilstraat towards Grote Straat. Pause where these two streets meet to admire the elegant shop window on the left corner. Further along, two buildings down, you’ll find another charming storefront ornamented with stained glass. As you continue your walk, keep an eye out for more delightful shop windows dotted throughout the city. Now, let’s veer right onto Grote Straat and head towards the Vrijthof, crossing it to reach Keizer Karelplein. At Keizer Karelplein is the North Portal of Saint Servatius Basilica. Before delving further, take a moment to absorb the surroundings of the square, where hidden gems await your discovery. First and foremost is the Saint Servatius Fountain, a collaboration between two luminaries of 20th-century Maastricht: architect Alphons Boosten, who designed the basin, and sculptor Charles Vos, creator of the bronze statue.  A colleague once described Vos as ‘the most seen but least known of Maastricht’s artists.’ Originally placed in the Vrijthof, the fountain was relocated here in 1992. On the corner of the square and Oude Tweebergenpoort sits a canon’s house with several bricked-up windows whose hardstone frames are still intact, making them particularly visible. This measure was likely taken to avoid window taxes, introduced in 1811 by ‘imperial decree’ when Maastricht was under French rule.

6. The Saint Servatius Basilica boasts a rich history of stained glass. Fragments and pieces of lead from windows dating back to the seventh century (!), the time of the so-called Second Merovingian church, have been discovered here. Walking past the basilica, we reach the Mountain Portal at Henric van Veldekeplein. This portal dazzles in its polychromy, applied during a 19th-century restoration by the renowned architect Pierre Cuypers. The gate accessing the portal is a relic of the same restoration. What intrigues us is not the presence but the absence of anything visible. Above the gate is a large, inconspicuous façade of clear glass. Previously, this space housed a monumental stained-glass artwork titled The Final Judgment, created by Cuypers and his fellow artisans from Atelier Nicolas in Roermond. However, it was lost during the extensive restoration in 1992, when the current façade replaced it, all in the pursuit of efficiency and simplicity. Lawsuits followed, but it was too late: the panel itself has the mysterious status of being ‘untraceable’.

7. Returning to Keizer Karelplein, we turn left into Kommel. Passing by the Kruisherenhotel, we reach Herdenkingsplein (Memorial Square). Here lies our next stop, the Maastricht Institute of Arts. This architectural marvel by Wiel Arets is predominantly composed of glass building blocks. Like the V’ House, Arets skilfully manipulates the transparency of glass. While the glass bricks allow light to permeate, they obscure visibility. This intentional design nurtures a conducive environment for student focus. Yet, come nightfall, the building transforms, illuminated by a mesmerising interplay of light and shadows falling across its glass walls. An intriguing detail easily missed is the presence of windows within a glass façade. This paradox underscores the structure’s dual nature: simultaneously imposing and delicate, shielding against and open to the external environment.

8. Head back to the Kruisherenhotel and veer left onto Kruisherengang. At the intersection of Kommel and Abtstraat, another instance of bricked-up windows, likely due to window taxes, catches our eye. The slightly recessed bricked area maintains the façade’s composition to some degree. Continuing down Abtstraat, we turn left onto Tongersestraat and keep right to reach the Jan van Eyck Academy. This academy building represents the final masterpiece of esteemed Limburg architect Frits Peutz. While it stands out against its scenic backdrop, its modest proportions do not overpower it. While it is tempting to categorise the structure as functionalist due to its whitewashed exteriors and expansive windows, such classification would be an oversimplification. The apparently load-bearing concrete framework is notably thin, lacks a cohesive layout, and, notably, is absent from the basement. Here, construction, infill, and ornamentation intertwine closely. Peutz’s oeuvre is too complex and diverse to categorise into movements, schools, or styles. Undoubtedly, his most famous building is the Glaspaleis in Heerlen. Before we proceed, let’s pause to admire the stained-glass windows adorning the façade. Unfortunately, their effect is lost as brickwork obscures them from behind: glass thrives on light to truly come to life.

9. Descend the steps on the other side of Academieplein, stroll past the conservatory, and cross the Jeker River. Looking to the right across the river, we see the previously mentioned Charles Eyck’s studio, distinguished by its enormous window. Following the example of fellow glass artist Joep Nicolas, Eyck regularly employed the vermurailles technique, in which the glass is painted vertically and requires ample daylight. It’s likely no coincidence that the window faces north, where the light is most uniform and free from harsh sunlight and sharp shadows, making it ideal for Eyck’s work. Further along, we pass by the Natural History Museum. Charles Vos, whom we’ve encountered before, once had his studio in the museum’s chapel – practically a stone’s throw from his namesake colleague! In the museum garden, our attention is drawn to the glass cube pavilion designed by N-Architecten to showcase Bèr, a Mosasaur fossil found in Maastricht. Its transparent construction provides a clear view of Bèr and preserves the vista of the monumental museum complex behind it. Moreover, it reveals the pavilion’s ingenious and slender construction. Thus, glass is sometimes the nemesis of secrecy, after all.

10. Walk up Looiersgracht towards Ezelmarkt, which translates as Donkey Market, though donkeys were never traded here. The name probably comes from an old Dutch word for beating sheets. At the end of Ezelmarkt, we turn right onto Lenculenstraat. To our left, the robust masonry wings of the Oud Gouvernement (the former Limburg Provincial Government Building) encircle a small quadrangle. It’s a grand, time-honoured gesture for a structure that, despite its scale, harmonises with the surrounding ancient city block. Bremer employed Kunrader limestone for the ground level and Namur bluestone for the window surrounds. He also commissioned works by local artists, transforming the building into a veritable ‘palace of Limburg arts’. The relief figures above the entrance are again by Charles Vos, who is truly living up to his reputation as the most prominent among Maastricht’s artists. This building now houses Maastricht University’s Faculty of Law, with the former council chamber now serving as a lecture hall. If there are no classes, we may cautiously peek inside, where the splendid stained-glass windows of Joep Nicolas are on either side of the lecture benches. Across six windows, Nicolas chronicles Limburg’s history, from the arrival of Servatius in Maastricht to the founding of Roermond, alongside coats of arms representing Holland, Limburg, and numerous other regions and figures pivotal to the province’s history. As we descend the stairs, we can see one of Jan Grégoire’s original three stained-glass windows. Before exiting onto Bouillonstraat, we traverse the registry hall with its impressive glass roof. This modest hall boasts an opulent array of materials, featuring wooden rafters, natural stone pilasters, travertine arches, marble columns, and slate floors.

11. We proceed along Bouillonstraat, transitioning into Papenstraat, and head towards Vrijthof. Just before turning left onto Vrijthof, look upwards at the building ahead to see another example of ‘window tax evasion’. Within one of the masonry encasements, you can see a window frame and semi-parted curtains painted in the bricked-up section! Turning onto Bredestraat at the corner of Vrijthof, we traverse Onze Lieve Vrouweplein, eventually reaching the Meuse River, where we cross the Hoge Brug (High Bridge), or Hoeg Brögk in Limburg dialect. On the other side, we descend onto Plein 1992 and encounter the unmistakable Centre Céramique, designed by Jo Coenen. Often referred to as a transparent cornerstone, the term aptly describes it. While many buildings claim to be open and accessible, Centre Céramique truly embodies this concept. Voids are this building’s focal point, connecting spaces and levels internally and with the surroundings. The twelve-meter-high voids and glass walls allow the square to continue into the interior. The building houses the city library and the Maastricht Museum, and its upper floors engage in a visual dialogue with the broader city and surrounding districts, offering a spectacular panorama.

12. We leisurely make our way through the Céramique district, a focal point of our In Jo Coenen’s Footsteps walk, eventually crossing the rail tracks. While we have ventured off the typical tourist trail, the diversion proves rewarding as we come face to face with the Koepelkerk (Dome Church). Constructed in the 1920s, this edifice is captivating for several reasons. It is a rare regional specimen of rotunda architecture, featuring a centralised layout devoid of longitudinal orientation. Moreover, the entire structure, including its dome, is made from reinforced concrete. Despite its architectural merit, the Catholic and conservative Maastricht expressed reservations, so much so that the architect faced a 15-year hiatus from church commissions. Yet, the collaborative effort of local architects Alphons Boosten and Jos Ritzen is a treasure trove of 20th-century Limburg art. Housing masterpieces by renowned artists, such as Charles Eyck, Charles Vos, and Henri Jonas, it serves as a testament to the Limburg School’s artistic legacy. Of course, we are interested in Henri Jonas’s 23 stained-glass windows embellishing the niches around the central space. Upon stepping back outside, observe the natural stone blocks jutting from the façade on both sides. Although they appear intended for some purpose, they have never been worked on by any of the many artists involved. Given the financial constraints that plagued the construction, the reason why isn’t difficult to guess...

13. We now make our way back across the rail tracks and proceed past the Colonel – one of the city’s tallest buildings – towards the station. This point marks the final stop on our journey, where we can either stroll back into the city via the Percée or catch a train to the northern regions or Belgium. Before deciding, step into the station hall. Upon turning around and gazing upward, behold Charles Eyck’s Limburgs Welvaart (Limburg Prosperity). These stained-glass windows commemorate the electrification of the railway lines to Maastricht in 1949. Each window was donated by the municipalities along those railway lines, their coats of arms flanking the personifications of the 11 provinces. Charles Eyck bids us farewell one last time with the words ‘Goede Reis’ (Good Journey) inscribed in the window above the exit. Before traversing through those municipalities by train, you can glimpse the Kristalunie factories just beyond the station on the left. Trucks arrive and depart, delivering sand for glassmaking. This factory is a direct descendant of Regout’s glass and ceramics factory. We made not have walked a complete circle, but this obvious link ties our story together perfectly nonetheless.

While our walk concludes here, enthusiasts can rent an OV-fiets (public bikes – only available to annual railcard holders) at the train station and cycle to the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-van-Goede-Raadkerk (Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel) in the post-war district of Malpertuis. In close collaboration with architect Jean Huysmans, artist Albert Troost created a true masterpiece. This ‘Night Watch of stained-glass art’ spans a staggering 500 square meters. However, the building, now used by Opera Zuid, is rarely open for public visits.